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And — hey, he's here. Looking pretty much the way you'd imagine: nondescript dark shirt, dark jeans. The mad-artist wind-tunnel hair, the sweet, neo-chipmunk smile. He's much cheerier than you might expect. We spend a moment looking over one of the mini-gothic "Corpse Bride" sets.

"I love the dimensional stop-motion medium," Burton says. "It's like 'Frankenstein,' in a way — it's like breathing life into a dead object."

He knows that the painstaking stop-motion process seems antediluvian to studio suits these days — it's Pixar's trail-blazing computer-animated features, like "The Incredibles," that are raking in all the plaudits, and the big profits. Burton is an old-school kind of guy, but he's not dogmatic.

"When I was working at Disney," he says, "it was like the Dark Ages, you know? It'd take eight years to make 'The Fox and the Hound'! I think Pixar makes good movies. But I disagree when they say cel animation is dead, because, you know, look at some of the Japanese things now. I think that all forms are still valid. It's just about making a good movie."

As we all know, Burton has used computer-generated imagery to spectacular effect in his own movies. But he says that with "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," he wanted to cut back.

 "The Corpse Bride" trailer

"We tried to go back to building sets and making things as real as possible," he says. "Because where CGI works, I think, is when you're doing quick, action-y stuff. It isn't quite the same when you're not doing that kind of a movie. So we went back to the old-fashioned way, building as many sets as we could, having a real chocolate river, you know? Getting stuff in there that, especially for the kids in the cast, makes it textural, and gives them a place to be. As opposed to acting in front of a blue screen, where they're not really sure what's going on. We're trying to keep it as pure as we can."

For those not familiar with "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," it should be explained that Burton's film and the 1971 movie "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," which starred Gene Wilder and has become something of a cult picture, both derive from a 1964 book by Roald Dahl. It's about a vaguely sinister candy baron named Willy Wonka (played by Johnny Depp in Burton's movie) who stages a contest in which five children will be able to win guided tours of his fabled chocolate factory. Four of the winners are snotty brats — Cool Kids, you might say. The fifth is a sensitive, sweet-natured boy named Charlie Bucket (played in the Burton movie by Freddie Highmore, of "Finding Neverland"), and it's Charlie who turns out to be the big winner in the end. I think we may be forgiven for discerning in Burton's embrace of this story a certain element of payback.

"Yeah," he says, laughing. "You know, when you're in school and you're kind of like Charlie, 90 percent of the other kids are horrible. It happens all the way through. It doesn't matter whether you're little or you're in high school. So you're always looking for retribution. I had a big backlog of anger."

The years have brought with them a gladdening ration of revenge, however, and Burton won't deny it's been sweet. "I went to my 10-year high school reunion," he says, "and it was so shocking. Because the fact was that the people who were popular in high school were completely ... they had peaked in high school. And the ones that were the outcasts were all incredibly attractive and successful. It was quite an interesting phenomenon!"

 
"I love the dimensional stop-motion medium ... It's like 'Frankenstein,' in a way — it's like breathing life into a dead object."

— Tim Burton


You'd think that with all of Burton's success, both artistic and commercial, he would by now have his pick of any project, and be able to get any story he felt strongly about made into a movie. Surprisingly, this is not the case. Tim Burton still gets blown off and told to forget it.

"I've been told that a lot," he says. "More so than not, you know? The amazing thing is that it keeps happening. You'd think that with a few successes it would get easier. But it actually doesn't."

Take "Batman," for example. Burton's movie partook of a new dark mood that had been introduced into the Batman saga by Frank Miller's extraordinary graphic novels. It was a perfect fit with Burton's own visual proclivities, and the movie became his biggest box-office hit, grossing some $251 million in the U.S. alone. Naturally, there were huge expectations for the sequel, "Batman Returns," which was an even darker picture. Way darker, actually — and it only grossed about $162 million. So when it came time to do a third Batman movie, the studio guys were no longer the big Tim Burton fans they'd been just a few years earlier.

"They begged me not to do another one," he says. "I was in a meeting with them, and I was toying with it, and they go, 'Tim, don't you want to go make some other kind of movie? You know, a little movie?' I realized halfway through the meeting that they really didn't want me."

Burton has had his commercial ups and downs since then, some of them heartbreaking. (The brave and brilliant "Ed Wood," filmed in gorgeous black and white, didn't connect with a big audience in its initial theatrical release.) But his visual artistry has never faltered. Maybe part of the answer to the eternal Hollywood problem is to get as far away from Hollywood as possible. This is what he likes about working in England: It makes it harder for the studio suits to drop in on a whim and tell him all the things he's doing wrong. And if England's not far enough away, there's always France. Burton loves Paris. Doesn't speak the language, but how much does that really matter?

"I barely speak English," he says. "I like speaking visually, and communicating in other ways." In fact, he says, "I think I've come to realize that I like being a foreigner."


Check out everything we've got on "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "The Corpse Bride."

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